On Thursday I motored to Strawberry Hill in south-west London, at the invitation of the Frassati Society at St Mary’s University College, to offer a Requiem Mass for the deceased relatives and friends of its members at Benedict XVI House, a small and new residence for students of St Mary’s.
However news emerged that a young male student of the College, M, had died on Tuesday in the most tragic of circumstances. He was a friend of some of the Society’s members and it was quickly and easily decided that the Mass would be a Requiem for M. Instead of the previously expected 15 or so students, over 40 students and lecturers squeezed themselves into the small oratory at Benedict XVI House to commend M to the mercy of God by uniting him to Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross.
It was my sad privilege to offer that Mass and to grope for words to convey the hope that we can still have for M in Christ. Seated or standing, some overflowing out the door, that congregation of M’s friends and well-wishers made it a solemn yet intimate Mass. The liturgy – chants and prayers, unbleached candles, the sacrifice of the altar – spoke for us all far better than any of us could have managed. I was glad to have been wearing black, as any other colour would have seemed inapt: there was no brave yet brittle attempt to deflect grief. We were there to mourn, to let God see and hear our mourning, and to hear His words and signs of hope in response through the liturgy. Afterwards, as we shared food and drink in the House, there was time for a more personal expression of solidarity in grief, and of mutual comfort, and also to remember M whom we had surrendered to God’s tender mercy. The Mass and meal were sensitively and amazingly well arranged by the members of the House.
One thing became clear, to me at least: that God is not the only great mystery in our lives, though He is the greatest. The human heart, also, is a mystery. The unseen burden of darkness and pain that we all carry to some extent is mysteriously greater in some. Sometimes it is so deeply hidden that others are unable to see it and so help bring light and relief. The burden in a person so afflicted can become a weight too heavy for the human spirit to bear, crushing the will and extinguishing hope.
But we can commend M’s soul to God in hope. For no person’s burden is too heavy for Him who bore the burden of our fallen human nature to the Cross. The Cross is the fulfillment of Christ’s words heard in the gospel of the Mass that evening:
All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:37-40
M’s burden was too heavy for him but it is not too heavy for Christ. The Father has given him to Christ and it is His will that M should not be lost. So we can pray with true hope that Christ, revealing even now to M the mystery of his human heart, will raise M up on the last day.
* Into your hands, O Lord, we commend his spirit.